In nursing home negligence cases, an increasing number of these for-profit facilities have complicated corporate structures. The primary company that benefits financially is not necessarily the one that actually manages the day-to-day operations. The reason for this is very intentional, and it has to do with how whether and to what degree those companies can be held responsible when nursing home abuse or neglect takes place.
When a nursing home staffer commits abuse or neglect, the employer can be held responsible in one of two ways: Direct negligence or vicarious liability. In a situation of direct negligence, it may be established the employer nursing home failed to properly vet the employee or didn’t have the right systems in place to supervise its workers or the patients. Vicarious liability, meanwhile, stems from the common law principle of repondeat superior, which is Latin for, “let the master answer.” While plaintiff must prove negligence by the employer in the first case, one need not prove negligence by the employer for a finding of vicarious liability. Instead, they need only show the employee was negligent or committed an intentional tort while acting in the course and scope of employment. This difference may also be important when it comes to the question of damages (which is how much money is paid).
Recently, the Tennessee Court of Appeals partially reversed a nearly $30 million damage award to a plaintiff in a nursing home wrongful death case alleging negligence and medical malpractice (technically in that state referred to as “health care liability”). The court vacated the damage award and remanded for a new hearing as to the amount of punitive damages to be awarded. (Punitive damages in Florida, F.S. 768.72, as in Tennessee, are awarded not to compensate for actual losses by plaintiff, but to penalize the defendant for gross negligence or intentional misconduct.) Continue reading →